How TEDxPlymouth University’s Evolution of Inspiration taught me how to confront my fears – and my peers.

As I took my seat in the lecture theatre in Plymouth University’s Roland Levinsky building, Two Door Cinema Club’s Something Good Can Work played over the speaker system. Fuelled by nostalgic optimism I reminisced about the first TED Talk I had seen that had a profound effect on me as a budding social activist.

Dr Brené Brown’s talks on ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ and the follow up, ‘Listening to Shame’, condenses ‘shame’ into two all too familiar thoughts: ‘never good enough’ and ‘who do you think you are?’. And, fittingly enough, my nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable evening was bookended by these nagging thoughts.

I felt a shared pride to hear such inspired thoughts coming from my city. From Jeremy Goslin’s talk about our desire for anthropomorphised machines and their daily support – the security of the familiar juxtaposed with the unease of the uncanny (cue thoughts of Siri inhabiting every iPhone: your own personal, pocket Jeeves); to Tracey Guiry’s exploration of how poetry can evoke memories of those we thought may have been lost to dementia forever. The real, and in Guiry’s case painful, raw nature of existence softened by the bizarre reassurance of virtual intimacy.

Adam Cook’s ‘I Am A Futurist’ explored the creation of a community from scratch with almost a conscious naïveté, a collaborative effort of the ethics of sustainability and social justice. The understanding that diversity of beliefs is necessary in creating a harmonious society jarred me – but in a good way; in a sit-up-in-your-seat-and-listen kind of way. Cook championed this idea, building a society that is a melting pot of ideas, some of which, ethical or political, differ to yours.

The validity of your voice is not determined by the smoothness of your rhetoric.

Ismini Vasileiou’s observations in ‘Unconscious Bias – Confronting Stereotypes’ spoke to me – the me that worries about my inability to convey my ideas articulately. She argued that people should focus on what we are trying to say, not how we are trying to say it. Be unapologetically persistent, she urged the terminally ineloquent activists among us. The validity of your voice is not determined by the smoothness of your rhetoric.

As Alistair Macpherson delivered ‘Fuelling A Local Energy Revolution’, I was excited to see a project that I had been involved in personally projected onto the screen. The Ernesettle Solar Array, the largest in the area with 16,000 solar panels, was commissioned in collaboration with the Four Greens Community Trust in 2016, as a result of innovative work developed by the local Labour government and their cooperative values. A product almost damned by the cuts made to the renewable energy budget by central government in 2015. Alistair didn’t mention this. Like many who dedicate their lives to improving those of others, he talked about the successes they had made as a cooperative. Bringing sustainable energy to the community that the project serves, and continuing with pioneering work to help communities across Plymouth and beyond, in the face of political austerity.

Feeling deeply intimidated by a room bursting with intellectuals, and hoping to answer at least one of Brown’s nagging questions, ricocheting in my head since I arrived, I messaged a friend during the intermission. Those around me shared their ideas for bettering the world, by being a catalyst for progressive social change and research.

My phone buzzed, as I sunk a glass of wine from the open bar. “Why do you feel intimidated?!”

Frantically I responded. “Fear of embarrassment, muteness brought on by sharing space with these hyper-intelligent beings”. Nursing my empty glass I compulsively refreshed the chat.

‘Intellectualism isn’t the be all and end all – especially when the subject is so broad!! It’s just about ideas, yeah? And you have those’.

As if to address my doubts Scott Gould took to the stage for the closing talk of the night, ‘Why I don’t watch TED Talks’. “There are those people who are annoyingly inspirational…” he began, obliviously. Reading his bio in the programme I was immediately overcome with admiration and envy. I was self-conscious of my own insecurities on using TED talks to inform my outlook and approach to my work. He talked about a need to fulfil the promise of every inspiring TED by incorporating its message in his own work, resulting in a desire to be completely vulnerable in all aspects of his life. Brené Brown would be proud. While Gould concluded that while taking inspiration from the truths explored in a talk is okay, he urged to build on that inspiration with your own truth.

Thinking of the support from the community groups I work with, and my peers who listen when I doubt my abilities, I realised – I do have ideas, and this TEDx event had provided me with some much-needed inspiration and fuel. When I entered I had hoped to leave the lecture hall with answers to the ‘shameful’ questions I had set myself. According to Brown, vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change. In the end I left energised and excited to still be seeking the answers – for me and the communities I serve.